When you belong somewhere, you are home. That’s why I appreciate not only my Anabaptist heritage, but my current experience as well. I think Anabaptists have a special niche that many other church groups do not experience. This is my perspective, and you are allowed to disagree with me. I’m simply sharing my sentiments and my viewpoint.
I’m an Anabaptist, and I’m at home. This is where I belong. Being an Anabaptist is how I live.
I recognize that since I grew up Anabaptist, I could be labeled as being partial. I agree with Chantelle Todman Moore, quoted in The Mennonite: “No one, no matter how far back they can trace their Mennonite roots, has the corner market on being Anabaptist.”
I don’t have a corner on Anabaptism, but I’ve experienced and lived it in one way or another ever since my birth. There are many others who have joined the Anabaptist faith after searching scriptures and choosing to embrace the Anabaptist way of life.
I didn’t take a journey from another tradition to Anabaptist faith and living. I’ve never felt the need to search for other grass when the grass I’m living on is plenty green enough. When you belong somewhere, you’re home. When you’re home, you’re at rest and at peace. I like not being restless and confused. I like feeling secure. I like to belong, just like you do.
Each tradition has its strong (and weak) areas. I will be the first to admit that my denomination has plenty of areas where folks aren’t genuine. There are situations where things are done wrongly. Sometimes we fall short of living kingdom lives. Yet, when the chips are down (we’re talking born-again, authentic Anabaptists), there’s something unique and special about these people whom I call my own. There are three areas where I think sincere, authentic Anabaptist people stand above other denominations.
1. Community experienced among believers
In Anabaptism, there is a community of believers committed to supporting and helping each other. This support is felt whether it’s in raising your kids, repairs after a house fire, putting up a new barn, hosting guests overnight or for several days or feeding several hundred people after a funeral. In groups where individuals fund their own health insurance, there continues to be support given when there is a need. For some Anabaptist groups, it includes your own health insurance, which means hospital bills of thousands of dollars are paid in full a mere few months after the bill comes in. On this, I am not exaggerating.
It’s a community that seeks to help bear the burdens of others by trenching it out in the daily activities of life. It’s a community that provides comfort, camaraderie and compassion among its people.
2. Convictions that are followed
Anabaptism is strong on core convictions. One of the distinctive traits of Anabaptism is the belief — and practice — that Christianity is not just being a Sunday-go-to-meetin’ Christian and whatever you do during the rest of the week is winked at or glossed over by others. In true Anabaptist communities, what you do on Saturday brings no cause for shame on Sunday. Your faith is exhibited in how you practice business or punch a time clock during the week and in how you file income taxes. It’s exhibited in relating to your neighbor every day of the week and not just on Sunday. The following tenets spell out the way authentic Anabaptists think and live.
- Application of practices that include how we respond to our enemies and those in authority, using hospitality without grudging, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and not just a “Yes, I believe in God” system. Application means claiming that the words of Jesus 2,000 years ago are still relevant to follow today. Therefore, we follow his teachings without picking and choosing. It means taking his words, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say unto you . . .” literally and not just if we feel like it, if it’s easy, or checking around to see if everybody else is doing it.
- Belief and practice in the principles of God’s Word and the conviction to follow them in the mundane of life. Many professing Christians live one way during the week and then go to church on Sunday. These professing Christians have a “feel good because I went to church” feeling that often isn’t lived out during the rest of the week. Integrity comes as a result of following the teachings of Christ. It means that your handshake is your word and is as binding as a written agreement. It means that following Jesus is a way of life and not just something we do when it suits or is not inconvenient.
- Discipleship which combines teaching and practicing together. It means being accountable to live the daily grind in the reflection of God’s Word and his commands. Iron sharpening iron, shoulders rubbing shoulders, precept upon precept — that’s discipleship.
- Practical living every day of the week no matter where one lays his head at night. Stewardship involves the wise use of finances, a life of simplicity and using resources frugally. It recognizes that God is the supplier of all things and that no man pulls himself up by his own bootstraps. Being practical involves using what we have been given and continuing to invest for the duration.
- Returning good for evil, not because it’s easy or even fun, but because it’s the right thing (based on Scripture) to do. In my Anabaptist heritage, there’s the validated story of my great-great-great grandfather who opened his home to a family after their house burned to the ground. This family of several children lived with Benedict and his family at no charge for weeks (you see what I mean?). During the time of feeding this neighbor family, Benedict noticed that corn from his corn crib was missing, so he set a trap. The trap didn’t produce a bear, but it produced a neighbor who had been stealing corn. Benedict brought him in and invited him to sit down at the table with everyone else to eat. When the man left, his stomach was full and he was given a bag of corn to take home with him. The corn was never missing after that. We hear these true stories and learn how people back then fleshed out their faith and belief, and it gives us the courage to follow their footsteps.
- Sharing one’s gifts freely in aiding the community of believers. While Anabaptists believe in a strong work ethic where each man pays his bills on his own, there is also a sharing of gifts among believers. Whether it’s hospitality, generosity or including everyone, Anabaptists practice community among themselves and with their neighbors.
3. Cross-bearing for the serious Anabaptist
Life isn’t about being applauded and accepted; it’s about serving Jesus, my Master. Sometimes this means sacrificing and giving up my “rights” or being willing to give up the sentiment that I “deserve to be happy.” It means pursuing holiness instead of happiness.
It means that we follow Jesus’ teaching that to be his disciple requires taking up our cross daily and following him. Anabaptists don’t always do it right. Yet, more often than not, authentic Anabaptists are willing to be hailed as weird or different or behind-the-times. This is because they choose to do things God’s way rather than trying to be like the crowd. In true Anabaptist churches, this biblical principle is taught as well as modeled.
In many circles in which I’ve moved, I don’t hear these sentiments readily. I hear about “rights,” “being happy,” “deserving to be happy” and climbing the ladder to success. I hear these sentiments from folks who profess a faith in Christ. They are churchgoers, but their goals are different from mine. Anabaptists do not view following Scripture as an option. It is our calling. We don’t pick and choose which parts to follow. Following Christ means having a relationship with him and seeking to obey him, taking what he says as though he really meant it (because he does).
My ladder to success is often different from others as well. When my goals are different, the road I travel will also be different. This is where people of Anabaptist faith walk a different path, in essence “marching to a different drummer.”
Birth, living, and dying
From birth to living and dying, there is a more specific difference in the Anabaptist faith and culture than in many others. This is the way it looks to me from where I live and from what I’ve experienced.
Children are recognized as a gift from God and are often publicly dedicated by the parents while the congregation affirms support in raising the child in the fear of God. Baptism symbolizes outwardly what has taken place inside. It is more than a rite or ritual. Nuptials are a celebration of the Bride of Christ and the Bridegroom. The focus is not so much on the bride and groom as it is in the beauty of the covenant of the church and the Bridegroom as well as the permanence of marriage. Celebration? Yes. Frivolity? No.
Similarly, the death of a saint is heralded as a glorious homecoming because of salvation and grace, and not on the merits of the person himself. I’ve attended many funerals of both Christian and non-Christian alike, and often (in non-Anabaptist churches), the person is heralded as now fishing on the shores of heaven, playing tennis on the golden streets, singing in the heavenly choir, or serving up potato salad or hot dogs in heaven — all things which the person has been known for here on earth. Death is glossed over, as though not thinking about it will make it easier. I come away from these services feeling empty and realize I was expecting much more because of my heritage. In Anabaptist churches, a funeral is a cause for considering one’s own soul and future destiny. It’s not morose or gloomy, but a reason to celebrate the salvation of a soul that is bound for heaven.
When it’s really over — and just beginning
For the follower of Jesus, success is following Christ in the every day of life and not just on Sunday. Following Christ means being faithful in church attendance and participation. It is giving one’s abilities and talents to enhance the kingdom of Christ, not to pad an IRA or savings account. We recognize that our highest calling is not in being successful in the eyes of those who are part of the worldly kingdom. Success is hearing him say at the end of our journey, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
For the Anabaptist Christian, the goal is to follow the commandments of Jesus regardless of what others are doing. It means we follow His calling to “come out from among them and be separate” (2 Cor. 6:17). We recognize that being chosen and royal in his kingdom also means, sometimes, to be considered peculiar, because being part of the kingdom truly means being different from many around us.
Our greatest ambition at the end of the day — and at the end of life — is to hear him say, “Welcome home! Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord.”
No matter your denomination, to hear Jesus say those words means true success. That, my friends, is what matters most.
Gert Slabach is a member of Faith Mennonite Church in South Boston, Va., which is part of Mountain Valley Mennonite Churches. She blogs at My Windowsill, where this post first appeared.